Time travel is a movie staple. Time travel films come in many flavours, such as Safety Not Guaranteed, Kate and Leopold, Time After Time, Groundhog Day, Peggy Sue Got Married and Midnight In Paris to name a half dozen. These are user-friendly examples of the form wherein travellers cross timelines and experience personal growth. Most time travel stories however are science fiction and tend to be used to propose mind-bending possibilities that challenge the audience. PREDESTINATION is the latter kind of time travel film.
Australian writer/directors Michael and Peter Spierig have used the work of science fiction master Robert Heinlein as their source material. Unlike the work of fellow sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, Heinlein’s writings have rarely been adapted for the cinema. Paul Verhoeven’s STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997) is the most notable example. PREDESTINATION is an adaptation the 1958 short story All You Zombies and is done with a reasonable degree of fidelity to the original. When the story was written, it was set in what was the near future of the 1970s, by contrast, the movie plays out entirely in our past, going no further forward than 1985. This assumes you don’t possess a personal time travel device, in which case please ignore the last sentence.
PREDESTINATION kicks off when an androgynous man (Sarah Snook) enters a bar and bets the barkeep (Ethan Hawke) a bottle of whisky that the story of his life will be the most amazing the barkeep has ever heard. The bet is accepted and we are taken back through a series of vignettes that reveal the strange twists and turns of the adrogynous man’s life. We learn this story takes place in a somewhat parrallel universe where the space program began earlier and grew more quickly than it did in our world. PREDESTINATION is one of those films that doesn’t bear too much discussion of its plot. Practically everything I could relate is a potential spoiler. Suffice to say, even if you guess some of the twists, you will never know preceisely where this movie will take you next. It deals with terrorism, gender identity, love and existential questions. It also has action, crazy gadgets and temporal anomalies.
Every scene is focussed either on Ethan Hawke or Sarah Snook. Hawke’s usual low-key solidness is perfect for a film that goes out this far on a limb storywise. Snook is brilliant. I have enjoyed her performances in everything I have seen her in and here she excels. The vulnerability she brings to the material is what the audience connects with throughout.
The Spierigs have evolved considerably since their debut film UNDEAD (2003). PREDESTINATION is a polished, mature work. This isn’t popcorn sci-fi, it’s a thriller with a whodunnit strand that is intertwined with thought-provoking questions about how we define ourselves as human, and how we survive without love. To pack all these genre goodies into 97 minutes is a feat akin to folding a Hyundai Getz into a Kinder Surprise.
PREDESTINATION is playing now in Australian cinemas. I give it a 8/10.